My first introduction to sailing was as a child, when my father bought a small Mirror Dinghy, now considered one of the classic small boats on which newcomers can learn to sail.
On summer weekends he took us to Selset Reservoir, high in the northern hills of England, where we would try to get the little boat to go in the direction we wanted. I was never really very enthused about going, and most of my memories are of cold and wet Sundays. But there were some glorious days too, when the wind was up, and the little boat seemed to fly across the water.
Family holidays often included adventure activities, and for many years we went to England’s beautiful Lake District, where we tried all sorts of outdoor pursuits. The activity centre we stayed at was right on the shore of Lake Windermere, and there were plenty of water sports on offer.
However, I became quite hooked on climbing, and enjoyed caving too.
When I look back I see clearly how much these early holidays have shaped the rest of my life.
At college I did a teaching degree, majoring in Outdoor Education. For three years in Liverpool I learned how to teach climbing, canoeing, mountaineering, caving… and of course, sailing.
Later, I worked in an outdoor centre in the Lake District, similar to the one where we had holidayed years before. Once a week we would take the kids out sailing in small boats called Toppers, which were great fun on windy days.
However, since those days over 30 years ago, I have had little to do with sailing. I’ve always quite fancied the idea of a Mediterranean sailing holiday – beautiful clear waters, warm sunny weather, bright sandy beaches, and little island bars and restaurants – but have never got around to it.
When Vanessa and I met the idea of sailing re-surfaced. She had done quite a bit of crewing on racing sailboats in the UK with a previous partner, and liked the idea of further sailing adventures.
The house sitting lifestyle we live affords us the opportunity to schedule gaps between our house sits, and in 2017 our plans began to take shape. We booked a two-week sailing course in Thailand for March this year. It was an intensive fortnight, and we learned a lot.
We hoped we had learned enough, as we then booked a two-week charter in the Caribbean, scheduled to coincide with the end of two back-to-back house sits in beautiful St Vincent & The Grenadines.
Horizon Yacht Charters were confident enough to take our booking, and we looked forward to getting aboard our 11m (36ft) Bavaria yacht, and setting sail on the high seas.
The charter company is based in the marina visible from our house sit, so it was easy to pop down to check the yacht out before our charter started, and make plans for our provisioning.
On the day of departure we stocked the boat with food and drink, and received a very thorough briefing.
Fellow house sitter Doug Dyer, sitting with Johanne on Bequia, our first planned stop, offered to come over and help us with our first afternoon of sailing. We were very grateful for his expertise, and his help in getting us on our way on Day 1.
That first evening we anchored in Admiralty Bay and met up with three other house sitting couples currently looking after homes on Bequia.
The next day six of us sailed together, navigating around the beautiful coast of Bequia. Vanessa and I then anchored in Friendship Bay on Bequia for the night.
The next morning our adventures really began, when we set off on the long windy crossing to Canouan, the next island in the Grenadines chain.
Over the following days our confidence and skills grew, and we started to settle in to the routine aboard. It was fun finding a spot to anchor, then going for a snorkel. We usually cooked dinner early and would watch the sun set with a rum and cola in hand – all very tropical.
During the first week we visited the beautiful Tobago Cays and sailed all the way down to Petit St Vincent, the last Grenadine island in St Vincent & The Grenadines. We actually crossed into Grenada, visiting Petit Martinique to refuel and re-supply, but as the island is so close to Petit St Vincent, no formal paperwork is required.
For our second week we happily meandered northwards again, calling in at bays we had missed on the way down. We even stopped for one night in the new Glossy Bay Marina – I think the endless-water hot shower there was a highlight for Vanessa!
Back in Bequia again, almost at the end of the journey we met up with our fellow house sitters once again, before making the final crossing back to the main island of St Vincent.
We were extremely proud to be able to return the yacht in the same condition in which we picked it up, and proud too of what we had learned and achieved along the way.
What a fantastic experience.
Our Caribbean adventure is over, for now, but I have a feeling we’re not quite done with sailing yet. We’ve already been looking at charter prices for the Mediterranean next year.
We return to the UK next week, where we plan to base ourselves for the next year or so.
And while writing this story, I got a little distracted looking at Mirror Dinghys for sale on eBay. I even felt a wistful longing for a grey, windy Sunday afternoon at Selset Reservoir.
I guess I’m more like my father than I thought.